The night time is the right time


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I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.

~Vincent Van Gogh

I agree with you, Mr. Van Gogh. I do love your richly colored masterpiece, “Starry Night.” I think I understand why you painted that picture. If one can ever understand a man who sliced off part of his ear.

I’m living in my own starry night. I’m a hardcore night owl. No matter what I do, I can’t change my feathers and fly with the early birds.

Against the grain, in opposition to mainstream life, I do things like arrive at the gym to exercise at 11 p.m.; begin the laundry at midnight; engage in all-night movie-watching marathons; pound the keyboards until dawn; plow through books; flip through photo albums; take on big projects — all long after everyone else in the house has surrendered their souls to sleep.

If I’m away from the city, I’ll want to spread out a blanket and gaze up at the sky to count falling stars and look for aurora borealis. I’ll want to walk at night — preferably along a shore or on familiar roads or paths in the Michigan woods. I’m not so crazy about doing this in the city unless I’m with others. I’m scared to death of packs of feral dogs.

Like the zombies and vampires, I come alive after sunset. Even if I’ve dragged myself through a day, at dusk I feel renewed energy pulse through my veins.  I love to keep the lights low and burn candles instead. I like the solitude and freedom that comes with a quiet house at night. It is only then that I can move about undisturbed. Neither the phone nor the doorbell sounds at night. Requests for service are nearly nonexistent.

I spent much of my career on night-shift duty. It would be easy to say that experience explains this behavior. But it doesn’t. I was born a night owl and as a young person challenged my bed times and curfews.

I do not dislike the morning, with its soft light, shimmering dew and birdsong. It’s the midday that gets me. There is an expanse between caffeine withdrawal and sunset that can only be described as something to endure. This I do not understand. Is it the weight of a day’s expectations bearing down?

Perhaps I should move to Spain, where I could have my sunrises, caffeine fixes and a few productive hours before retreating for a siesta grande. Then, when the sun slanted through the blinds, I’d rise and resume my activity into the wee hours. What a life that would be.

What about you? Are you a night owl or an early bird?

Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o’clock is a scoundrel.

~Samuel Johnson

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Beach therapy

cresentgrasstree

The beach hides behind these grassy dunes.

Summer performs its final act in these next few weeks.

I see the foreshadowing in the orange-tinted maples along the highway. I watch the plot development in my garden: plants are yielding less produce each week. Blooms are brown, spindly or spent. I witness the last chapter as it writes itself: Girl from the West gets up early for the first time in months to attend sophomore orientation. She talks excitedly  about the upcoming football season and the homecoming dance. Tomorrow, we take Girl from the East to her first-ever soccer practice.

Knowing that the show is about to end, I grabbed my summer to-do list last weekend and checked off the last item: day at the beach. Sure, there are beaches along our many inland lakes close to home, but they are not worth the entrance fee. To find a good beach, we Michiganders must head to one of the Great Lakes.

cresentshore

What the tip of Michigan's thumb looks like

Earlier this week we spent the day at Port Crescent State Park, one of my favorite beaches along Lake Huron. It’s a manageable drive from home and well worth the slow sojourn through corn and soy bean farm country. I’ve dreamed all summer of  this beach’s fine-grained sandy shores, soft lake bottom free of muck, sharp rocks or seaweed,  and its breathtaking views of Michigan’s “thumb.”

We kept it simple: a big blanket, a cooler packed with snacks and water bottles, and a plastic tote stuffed with beach toys. We splashed and swam and threw Frisbees and dodged lapping waves in search of the perfect skipping stones. We dug a hole to the center of the Earth, erected wobbly castles, ate a few sand pies, and battled seagulls for territorial rights.

digdeep

Imagine what our bath tub looked like that night.

No matter how tough times are, how many challenges we face, it’s good therapy to take at least one day a month and escape into a world that offers nothing but sensory pleasure.

Beach therapy. Tickets are still available at a shore near you.

crescentsand

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Sister, do you know my name?*


sisters

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I do not have a sister.

Not by blood. Not through marriage. Not even through friendship.

I have one brother who has never married. We are not close.

My husband is an only child.

I once had a friend with whom I was so close we often referred to each other as sisters. In childhood we promised we’d always be there for one another for the happy times, the big moments, the darkest hours. We were, for the most part, there for each other through childhood, teen years, college, careers, marriages, babies, divorces, rebounds, and the little things in between.  But as we hurtled toward midlife, our lives grew more complex and distant. She began to turn more to her biological sister. There were issues of a personal nature that, I guess, were best kept within the bounds of bloodlines.

Until recently, I fully blamed her for the loss. Now I know I’m responsible, too.

I don’t understand the responsibility of having a sister, of being a sister to a woman.

I fantasized about having a real sister. I begged my parents to have another baby, hoping the next one would be a girl. But my parents assured me that two was enough. I imagined a world much like the Brady Bunch girls, coated in pink frosting and slumber parties and silly little fights over borrowed headbands and shoes.

I was insanely jealous of my friends who had older sisters who could teach them how to wear makeup or smoke a cigarette properly or how to act on a date.

When I went to college, I left my neighborhood friends behind and never replaced them. I didn’t pledge sororities. I joined a few clubs but never found any kindred spirits in any of the women I met on campus.  I spent most of my adult life seeking and maintaining relationships with the opposite sex. I was at different times a girlfriend, a fiancee, a wife.

I’ve also been the woman who more easily befriended the men than the women at work. Friendships with the opposite sex are a delicate dance on a very thin line. It is the rare spouse who tolerates 2 a.m. phone calls from “she who is just a friend’” or appreciates letters sent by “he who moved away but we still keep in touch.” Those friendships rode away on a tide of jealousy.

My mother does not have sisters. She has sisters-in-law, but they are not close. What I saw of her friendships during my childhood were a string of women who seemed extremist in whatever path they were following. The alliances seemed short-lived and ended dramatically.  Mostly, I had no idea what my mother did with her friendships. It was a part of her life I didn’t see.

I’m much better about friendships today. I make the effort. Through career, common interests and motherhood, I’m blessed with a bounty of wonderful women friends. But are any of them a “sister” to me?

I have two daughters.

They are sisters. They delight in this. They call each other “sister” and “sissy.” Nothing thrills me more than to see the two of them holding hands or entwined on the couch under blankets watching a Disney movie or one sitting still while the other paints her toenails. They already are miles ahead of me in understanding the sisterhood.

Are women without sisters missing out on something? Am I yearning for something that is over-rated?

Is is through the mother-daughter experience or luck of the sibling lottery that we learn how to forge these relationships?

I’d like to know what you think.

* Post title taken from a sweet song written by one of my favorite bands, The White Stripes.

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Billion Dollar Babies

kidscruise

While strolling through a street fair in my town, I came upon this display in front of one of those eclectic shops that sells vintage toys and odd collectibles. Two nearly naked plastic baby dolls posed inside a toy convertible sedan, engaged in all forms of self-gratification and self-destruction. Yet, through the haze of smoke and blur of booze, their eyes still twinkled, their cheeks blushed rosy and their shame was nowhere to be found.

We all should be so lucky.

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Call it what you will

detour

Some call it the Nightmare Ride.

Some call it the White Trash Parade.

The official name is the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Call it what you will.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Dream Cruise, billed as the largest one-day auto event in the world.

It’s big. It’s more than a one-day event. If you happen to live near it, you know. It starts when July bleeds into August and continues to build momentum until the big day: the third Saturday in August. If you live near it, you either book a vacation, host a Dream Cruise party, or bar the doors and settle in with a stack of movies and a stock of alcohol.

If you live near Woodward, you have two choices: accept the fact that a trip to the market will take double the time or drive to a market in another town, taking the long way around. As the days grow closer to the event, the roads are so jammed that traffic comes to a standstill. The summer soundtrack adds a few guest performers: revving engines, roaring exhaust systems and squealing tires. This is the not-so-fun side of it.

The area transforms itself to accommodate the car lovers, who come from down the street or across the country to park their lawn chairs at the curb and settle in for an extended viewing. There are drink stands and T-shirt booths. Cities along the route take advantage of the event and offer Dream Cruise parties and festivals. Some businesses lease their parking lots to radio stations and other promoters for classic car shows and oldies-music parties. One nearby town set up a drive-in movie theater and showed Abbot and Costello reels. This is the festive, fun side of it.

The party girl in me enjoys the lively atmosphere, the excuse to get out and have fun. The grumpy side of me just wants to move about my neighborhood without all this hoopla. The nostalgic side of me can’t help getting excited when I spot a mint-condition Ford Mustang Mach 1 from the mid-70s, or a late ’60s Plymouth Barracuda fastback or one of those slick, black “gangster” rides from the 1930s with gleaming chrome pipes.

Call it what you will. It’s a dream to ride down memory lane. It’s a tribute to the glory days of the automobile and Detroit. It’s a flashback to the days when no one thought twice about  burning gas for hours in their father’s Oldsmobile or a Little Deuce Coupe. It’s a nightmare if you get tangled in the traffic on your way to the pharmacy or stuck next to the Right to Life “Truth Truck” with your children in the back seat. (Warning: link images are upsetting.)

It’s good. It’s bad. I’m glad it’s over.

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Seeking a status change

status

“It’s not your fault.”

This is what friends and family reassure me when I start to think that resigning my job almost three years ago put us in the black hole we are in today.

Who knew everything would fall apart in two years? They ask.

You would have been out of a job anyway, they assert.

Your children needed you, they remind.

True on all three counts.

The plan was to take one year off work. One year to help my newly adopted daughter bond and attach and adjust and feel that she had loving caregivers in her life who were there for her 24/7 if needed.

Turns out, it was needed. It took two years of dedicated attention.

Unfortunately, after the two-year mark, when my husband and I both knew it was time for me to go back to work, our world fell apart. The automotive industry tanked. It is the lifeblood of this region.

The newspaper industry crumbled. It is the lifeblood of this family and most of our friends.

So, there you have it: two major industries that had everything to do with our bottom line in ruins.

Our little world we worked so hard to create, a secure world of steady pay and healthy savings and home equity,  a few nice vacations a year, didn’t include worrying about unpaid bills or clients who are slow to pay or who do not pay at all. Worries were for things like would we get good seats for the concert? How much would braces cost? Will the scratch on the lease car be counted against us when we trade it in?

I’m seeking a status change: from stay-at-home mother who tried to work from home but found that what she does isn’t worth more than a bag of pennies to full time working mother who’ll do what it takes to save her home and family.

I’m  seeking status change from someone who labors over every dime of the weekly grocery budget, who is sick of the college diet at mid-life to someone who can actually eat at a restaurant once in a while, or order a fancy coffee drink without thinking that someone else in the family will do without something because of this one selfish act.

I’m seeking a status change from someone who hovers over a gaping pit of bitterness and despair about things for which she has no control to someone who openly accepts change and pain because she knows it will make her a stronger person.

That’s what’s on my mind today.

Back to the funny business tomorrow.

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Give it up, prairie dog

Sing, dance, shout little prairie dog, but you cannot compete with the Game Boy

Sing, dance and shout little prairie dog, you cannot compete with electronic toys.

I’m not in the habit of snapping pictures of strangers in public and posting them online. But this one, when I found it with my downloaded shots, just begged to be shared with the Internets. The reason I have this picture at all is because I was balanced on a railing, finger poised over the shutter button on my camera, waiting for my little Girl from the East to pop up in one of the viewing tubes.

We were at the prairie dog exhibit at the Detroit Zoo, which is a popular stopping point for the children and a great photo opportunity for parents. The exhibit enables visitors to get close to the perky little rodents of the West and play peek-a-boo with them as they dart in and out of their tunnels. Children, if they are inclined to do so, can descend a set of steps to an underground vestibule with three viewing tubes that place them eye-to-snout with the prairie dogs.

While I waited and waited and started to worry about my girl, I noticed this boy — the one to the far right in the picture.  I saw him at two points earlier in the day. At each encounter, this child held himself in the same way: silent, intently focused on this electronic game device, seemingly unaware of his surroundings. He was with another child, maybe a sibling, and a caregiver who appeared resigned to his behavior.

Unlike the other children, this boy did not look at the prairie dogs. He did not wave to familiar faces in the crowd. He did not tap on the tube or stick out his tongue. He didn’t flatten his nose to the glass or smear it up like all the other kids took turns doing.

Mild panic over the disappearance of my Girl from the East made me forget about this boy. I found my child crouched on the steps, tears welling in her eyes, waiting for me to rescue her. I felt bad that I’d pushed her into this situation before she was ready.

But after finding this picture, I’m glad I nudged her out of her comfort zone just a little. I wondered about this boy. Did he have  a medical condition? Did this explain his withdrawal and seemingly anti-social behavior? If so, then any further commentary is beyond the realm of my knowledge.

If not, I wonder why he is allowed to behave this way in public? Are his parents/caregivers tired of arguing with him about his electronic device usage? Is he going for a Guinness World Record?

It makes my heart sick when I attend a choir concert or other live performance and see parents in the audience allowing their children to send text messages and play video games. This example, of a child so engrossed in a video game that he doesn’t care about the living world around him, scares me.

Are we giving in too much ? Giving up? Are they just following our example?


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Signs, signs, everywhere signs

bwsign
First the neighbors asked if we were moving. Then the mail carrier wanted to know about the rent.

In the bizarro world that is my life lately, the latest crazy thing is the “House For Rent” sign that sprouted on our lawn overnight.

We own our home. (Well, we make mortgage payments.) Yeah, we’ve thought quite a bit lately about unloading it and ditching this D-town, which lately stands for Depression State-Ground Zero. But we’ve not done anything yet. And somehow, with the appearance of this sign, the universe is channeling my deepest fears. The cosmos is playing a dirty trick. In one day, two important things are taken away and a sign appears  suggesting that we are renters and on our way out

Had I not been on week two of a sleep deprivation above and beyond my normal dosage, I would have probably ripped out the sign immediately and stuffed it in the trash along with all the other wayward signs that find their way onto our expansive corner lot. It would have found a home next to the obnoxious “Garage Sale” “Bush/Palin” and “Open House” placards that folks don’t even bother asking permission to place on our grass. Had I not had bigger issues to resolve, such as no cable/phone/Internet service, I would have  inquired around the neighborhood to see if someone was missing a sign.

But I’ve not been myself lately. Just because I see something with my eyes, hear it with my ears, or touch it with my hands does not mean it’s real or true. So I stared at the sign, felt my eyes tear up, and then wondered through the watery blur: Did we sell our house? Did we ever really own it? Are we renters? Did I just emerge from a fugue state for the last decade?

Hoping to clear the haze in my head, I went outside, looked at the number written on the sign and called it.

Of course, no one answered. Of course, the voice mail message was vague. I listened as a sleepy-sounding guy asking me to leave a message. I did. Mr. Sleepy never returned the call.

When I awoke this morning I looked outside. There stood the sign in all its conspicuous glory. No one has rescued this runaway. I went outside and yanked it out of the earth and placed it on its side near the street. Much later, upon returning from errands, I found it planted on another front lawn two blocks north of my house.  Ah, so it’s some sort of misguided marketing strategy or a silly prankster on the move. Whatever the reason, it’s a freaky little message from the universe.

Should we stay or should we go? That’s the question of the moment. We’ve invested nearly a decade in this property. That’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere since childhood. It’s easy to pack up  a place after just a few years. But a decade in, well, now you’re talking about a place steeped in memories.

I cannot look at our living room without thinking of two giddy newlyweds sitting on cushions, eating takeout Chinese food, surrounded by unpacked boxes. I cannot ascend our second-floor staircase without recalling the time when we had the upstairs gutted to the studs, a big hole cut out of the west wall, and my husband’s office doubling as our bedroom for three long months. I cannot tour the big back yard without remembering how it was when we found it: a sea of weeds and overgrown shrubs. Today it is home to a good-sized playground and a massive vegetable garden.

So much time, money, energy and hope poured into this place. We always knew we’d leave it. We never professed a lifetime commitment. The plan was to leave on our own terms, when we were ready. Plans change. Terms change. Are we ready?

The very palpable fear of loss has forced me to appreciate what I have and to fight like hell to save it. If I lose that fight, let me leave with grace.

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I'm not ready to deal with it

 

elakeclouds

Rather than look down the road at a horizon obscured by thick clouds, I’m focusing my attention on what’s directly under my feet. One or two footsteps ahead. That’s all I can manage.

When I look down, I see that my feet look like someone who goes barefoot too much. I see that I’m rough on my shoes. I see that people spit their gum on the sidewalks with great frequency. Why is that?

What I don’t want to see is that I don’t know where I’m going. I’m neither walking away from a problem nor walking toward a solution. I’m just walking. Maybe even a little aimlessly. Dangled just out of reach is a carrot. This carrot that I cannot grasp or fully envision is the answer to all my current problems. There are many other hands swatting at one another for that carrot.

This is all I can process now: carrots, shoes, gum on the sidewalk.

The road ahead, behind those clouds? It could lead to the gates of happiness and prosperity heretofore unknown. It could be another day just like today, which is one-half  blessing and one-half torture. It could be a cliff.

There’s no way of knowing. There’s only so much I can do to prepare.

I can’t allow myself to contemplate it for too long. When I do, I don’t sleep at night. I don’t eat during the day. I worry endlessly. Suddenly, the irrational and extreme actions of loved ones in the last few years make more sense. When you are close to the edge, you begin to feel its pull. It becomes a great struggle to avoid looking into the chasm.

For the first time in my life the expression One Day at a Time holds real meaning. It’s more than a lousy ’70s sitcom. It’s more than the popular bumper sticker in the parking lot at AA meetings. It’s a guiding principle at this point. God, let me make it to another sunset, let me find some sleep in the night ahead. Let me awaken to a better day tomorrow.

Let me find a carrot on the road ahead. Let the clouds part to expose clarity of direction.

And really, what is it with all the gum on the sidewalks?

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